The journey that began 5 years ago as the Juno spacecraft left Earth and embarked for the largest planet in our Solar System has finally come to an end! Or is this the beginning? Juno, the spacecraft designed by NASA to orbit the massive gas giant for the next 20 months has successfully breached the planet’s dangerous radiation belt and dust rings.
The probe was landed on July 4 after a contingent braking maneuver by NASA in order to ensure Juno was travelling at the appropriate speed to fall into orbit. Had the probe continued at its original pace, the spacecraft would have been flung into the depths of space. Juno is set to orbit 3000 miles above the cloud ceiling surrounding Jupiter. In the 20 months it will be orbiting and collecting information to send back to NASA, Juno will be exposed to what is equivalent to 30 000 dental X-Rays.
Juno orbits Jupiter once every 53 days, until October where it will shift to a much tighter orbit of once every 14 days. After the 20 month expedition the spacecraft will eventually plunge into the planets core. The spacecraft launched on August 5, 2011 and landed just short of 5 years later on Independence Day. “The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken of JPL. NASA’s Juno team were joyful when news of a successful orbital breach was confirmed as the spacecraft was the product of not only a 1.7 billion mile journey but also $1.1 billion USD.
The mission hopes to accomplish creating a better understanding of the evolution and history of Jupiter. Juno will be gathering information about the gas giant relating to understanding its potential solid core, the magnetic field of Jupiter, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the atmosphere as well as observe the planet’s auroras. This mission will also help determine what the role of giant gas planets such as Jupiter have in the formation of our solar system, and the many other planetary systems like ours in the universe.
Juno will take its rightful place in history as a feet of human accomplishment as it is the fastest thing ever built by man travelling at 165 000 miles per hour and has gone the farthest distance of any man made object in history. Jupiter was often seen as a “missing link” in our knowledge of the universe. Now that NASA has successfully landed their Juno probe the world and all of mankind will have a better understanding not only of the origins of our solar system, but the future of the universe as well.